Back when there were other ifriit to talk to, I’d tell them Morocco was as far as you can get from Mecca without leaving civilization. In Agadir, with its casinos and five-star hotels and nightclubs filled with Moroccan tourists sporting European fashions too daring to wear at home, even these most fractious of beings could not have argued; but here, a mere twenty miles out of town, I could barely have spoken the words myself without laughing. A thousand and one trashbags flapped and snapped on the branches of the argan trees, blown by the June breeze from every dump in the country. A plastic Ayn Sultaan bottle arced from the window of a passing truck, trailing a mist of carbonated mineral water, and bounced in the dust.
Except for the bags, the bottle, and the asphalt road, the landscape was much as I had always known it: rolling hills and twisted gray-green trees, dust and blue sky. One tall tree had been cleared of bags, and a herd of goats perched among its branches, nibbling the pointed argan fruit. A goatherd in a dusty jalbiib leaned on his stick and watched them. I thought of King Sulaymaan (may they build a halaal McDonalds on his grave) leaning on his own stick and took a step out of my way to crush the Ayn Sultaan bottle under my heel.
I had arrived at a discreet distance, but I needn’t have bothered. The goatherd was facing the other way, and the only other people in sight were three men minding an argan oil stand by the road. Nothing new about that, either, though nowadays they displayed their wares on a folding table instead of a carpet, and the jugs were plastic.
The goatherd turned to greet me. I’d heard the phrase before, but wasn’t sure of the proper response. I’d never learned Berber.
“Good morning,” I said in Arabic.
“Good morning.” He placed his right hand over his heart. The sun had left his face cracked and dark.
“Please accept this, O pilgrim.” I handed him a twenty-dirham note. I can afford to be generous.
He thanked me. I circled the tree slowly. The creature I was looking for was more like a goat than anything else. Perhaps I could learn something here. The argan’s branches were perhaps an inch across, narrower than the goats’ cleft hooves, but they walked daintily to the very tips to get at the fruit. The argan nuts inside fall to the ground–that’s where argan oil comes from. The goats watched me indifferently from slotted round eyes.
“You speak Classical Arabic,” said the goatherd. “You sound like a book.”
“I suppose I would.” Moroccans call it “Classical Arabic” even when it’s on their televisions.
From my accent he seemed to conclude I was a tourist. And I suppose a Moroccan woman would have been traveling with her husband, or at least a woman friend. But who would I ask to accompany me? I’m not about to explain my affairs to a lesser jinni. Or a human.
“You may take pictures,” said the goatherd. “Go ahead.”
I wasn’t carrying a camera, so I produced one from my jacket pocket. Fluffy kids, too small to climb, drummed on the trunk with their forefeet. The goatherd lifted one up and set it on a branch. “That’s a good picture,” he said. “Cute. I’ve never seen a camera like that. Is it Japanese?”
Maybe there was nothing I could learn from these tame animals. My quarry was feral, born to wild jinn goats who had not known masters for generations. But argan nuts, argan oil. . . that gave me an idea. . .
The three men from the stand wandered over. They wore jeans and short-sleeved shirts with plastic buttons, but they were clearly the goatherd’s sons. Thirty years ago his hair had been as thick and black; thirty years from now their faces would be as crackled with wrinkles.
They hadn’t brought the argan oil–that was for Moroccans to cook with, and I was obviously foreign. One had a split geode which would have been prettier if the crystals hadn’t been stained red with iodine. Another, a handful of bracelets–he ran his lighter under them to show me they were real stones, not plastic.
The third held a tarnished copper bottle.
It was engraved with prayers in a language no human now spoke. Its neck was sealed with a sign I had contemplated for centuries when I was trapped beneath it.
I rushed away in a wind, and the plastic bags shook, but not as much as I.
There’s a Moroccan curse–”May you perform your ablutions with the urine of a Jewish jinni.” Blasphemy, piss, anti-Semitism, and the nameless fear of the jinn, melded with poetic succinctness. If you could put a dog in there, it’d be perfect.
It was Allah who made the first jinn from the smokeless fire, but we are not all of one faith. Once there were indeed Jewish jinn–a few worked for Sulaymaan (may his name be cursed among humans as it is among jinn) but I haven’t seen one since I was freed. The Christians teach that the Christ died for men alone, so any Christian jinni would be a heretic and perforce no Christian.
Many humans believe that when some jinn accepted the teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him, though I’m under no particular compunction to say so), the rest allied with Ibliss, the strongest of the ifriit and the most insincere of shaitaan if you ask me. They forget that many of us were still confined in Sulaymaan’s bottles during the days of the Prophet (pbuh). We emerged to find that many jinn, including some who were greatly honored among us, had submitted to this new religion; while others (many just as honored) had taken Ibliss’s oaths. I. . .
I thought I would have more time to decide.
The argan oil had given me an idea, but it had to wait for morning. The sun was low, and the clean expanse of the Sahara was so near that I could not keep it from my thoughts. I did not think the desert would raise my spirits after the sight of that bottle, but I longed to return once more.
A human would have to jolt down a rutted desert path in a jeep for half an hour to reach the nearest guest house, but I can go anywhere as quickly as I can think of it. Unfortunately, so can my goat-like quarry, and until I can learn where it wants to go, I will never catch it.
All my magic will not tell me where it is. When Sulaymaan (may diabetic dogs discover an affection for his tombstone) was old, he walked with a cane. He was leaning on it, overseeing jinn workers, when he died. But the cane held him up, and the jinn kept working for forty days and forty nights until termites chewed the cane away and the body fell down. Only then did they realize he was dead. Truly Allah alone is all-knowing.
I think the goat is looking for me, too.
I took a male form and sidled over a small dune. The rental camels had handles on their saddles so they wouldn’t spill the tourists when they seesawed to their feet. Once I had camels of my own, white and black horses that loved to run, a tame cheetah who brought me the bones of its kills and stropped its spotted face on my thigh. Now the good-looking young guide was insisting on taking my hand to help me onto the saddle, and leading my mount with a rope. I didn’t mind. It was pleasant to rock with the camels’ gait, pleasant to watch our shadows ripple across the sand, pleasant to contemplate the guide’s long legs in his blue pants.
We crossed three dunes before we halted in a spot chosen, I think, so the guesthouse and its campgrounds would be concealed. The guide–Hassan, half the young men in Morocco are named Hassan at the moment–sat beside me and offered me polished fossils from the nearby beds at tourist prices.
For Hassan the Sahara was spare and empty, but he could not see as I do. We, the ifriit, the greatest among the jinn, we built our cities here. Our roads stretched from from the ocean west of Africa to the salt sea to its east.
But long ago the trumpets had sounded. Allah and Iblis had summoned their ifriit troops. Where they fought, whether they fight now, I do not know. It was not they who laid waste to our kingdoms, but indifferent, implacable time. Our jinn beasts rut and grow misshapen in our ruins, and of all the ifriit I alone remain to see it.
“Where are you from?” said Hassan. I started.
“Do you know the Ghaylaan Valley?” I said. “In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?”
“Isn’t it near Mecca?”
“Maybe even a little too near.”
We watched the sun set on two landscapes. Sand sifted across the broken jinn thoroughfares. Below us, three lesser jinn squatted on their haunches among the toppled slabs of an ifriit home. They had long ago looted the last of its treasures, torn them apart in their squabbles and never used them–our scrolls and our tapestries, our chessboards and our ouds. What once was a jinn dog unwound itself across the road. The sun sets so fast here, in the dry air.
“Will you (if Allah is willing) dine at the guest house?” said Hassan. “Have you seen it? We have carpets on the sand and you dine under the stars. There is music, Berber music, drumming and dancing.” He smiled. “I know a place we could go afterwards.”
I smiled myself. Once two human kings traveling in the wilderness saw a jinni approaching and hid in a tree. The jinni landed beneath them and set down a chest locked with heavy chains. He opened it and took out a beautiful human woman.
After the jinni had fallen asleep, the woman waved at the two men and made it clear by means of gestures that she wished them to do as the jinni had done. They shook their heads but she gestured that she would wake the jinni, who would kill them. So they did as she wished.
Afterwards she slipped the rings from their fingers and threaded them onto a long cord with many others. The jinni, she said, had abducted her on her wedding night so she would never know another; but despite all his precautions she had ninety-eight rings on her cord.
For humans it is a story about the perfidy of women, but originally it was a story for jinn. For us it is about the perils of desiring humans.
I waited on a Qalat Maguunah street for a perfume shop to open. I didn’t care which one. There are twenty in a row, all essentially alike.
The first nineteen yielded nothing. Let me tell you the tale of the twentieth.
I could have touched the opposite walls of the shop with my outstretched arms, and I was not in one of my larger forms. It would have seemed tiny if I hadn’t spent all those centuries in a bottle. The pop concert poster inside the door was the only thing that wasn’t pink. Pink bottles held rosewater shampoo. Pink tins held rosewater lip balm. Pink heart-shaped soaps were piled on the counter. It was like being inside a human’s body on a sunny day.
The owner showed me the same rosewater hand lotion, rosewater anti-wrinkle drops, and rosewater-scented cosmetics I had seen nineteen times before. Here and there I saw a few tan cakes of argan soap, the source of my inspiration. There was rosewater in atomizers, cheap plastic pumps, little glass jars, all labeled in Arabic and what was probably French. I never learned French.
“I would like your advice, O pilgrim,” I said at last. “I am looking for something exceptional. My mother lives next to a tannery, and at times the stench is not to be described. I need something very strong, but also very pleasant.”
“Something for the lady’s mother.” He closed his eyes and nodded. “I know exactly the thing. My brother-in-law has a perfume shop in Fes, and a few days ago there was a terrible odor in the air. Goats rutting, he said, were more fragrant by far.”
“Indeed?” I said. I felt such excitement that I feared he would see the smokeless fire in my eyes.
“Like rancid chicken guts boiled in shiishah water, he said. So I sent him this.” He pulled a cut-glass bottle out from under the counter. “This is the finest rose oil in Dades Valley. The merchants from Suuq Al-Attaariin lined up to buy from him. Your mother will love it (if Allah is willing).”
“He’s in Suuq Al-Attaariin?” The perfume-makers’ suuq. This might just be a colorful specific calculated to lower my sales resistance. Still, it sounded more promising than anything I’d heard at the last nineteen shops.
The proprietor clinked the bottle on the counter to suggest I was missing the point. “His shop isn’t in the suuq. It’s a big shop. Let me give you his card. I sent him my whole stock and it sold by noon.”
“Except this bottle.”
“Only because I missed it.”
I bought it. I couldn’t see why not.
I wandered the Fes suuqs in the shape of a black dog, dodging kicks and thinking up curses. My goatlike enemy had not been here–I was sure of it. Its reek was like no other. But there was another smell, a harmony to the jinn-goat’s melody. . . less jinn and more mortal, less fire and more earth.
I followed it past a butcher shop with a camel’s head hanging from a hook in the ceiling. Even as a dog, the smell of fresh meat repelled me. Jinn do not eat flesh. The piles of dried apricots and figs next door were almost as bad, and the shopkeeper threw a rock at me.
The source of the musk was nearby, I was sure of it. But the crooked lanes conspired to lead me away whenever I seemed to be getting closer.
I thought I saw the copper bottle among a dozen brass hands of Fatima, but I kept going. Even if I was wrong, Fatima had been no friend to the jinn. Five in your own eye, Fatima.
The trail, faint as childhood memory, led me out of the suuqs and onto the street. A driver leapt from his car to berate a tailgater in three languages. A bus from the girls’ school passed, and a teenaged boy swerved his convertible so his friends could hold up signs with their cell phone numbers.
I darted between pedestrians in Western and traditional clothes. A Berber pharmacy’s herb baskets ignited a fireworks display of scents in my nostrils. But the musk was like a drumbeat that can be heard regardless of how many other instruments play.
I followed it to a great house–some merchant’s home, once. The high walls were topped with broken glass to keep intruders out, for all the difference it made. I flew invisibly to the open patio atop the house. The flat roofs of Fes, studded with satellite dishes, were heaped in every direction around me. A dog again, I trotted down the steep stairs.
Wool threads trembled in the air, clung to my wet nose, made me sneeze. Every room was filled with carpets: stacked flat, in piles eight feet high; rolled like woolen pillars; hung from the walls. The colors were wasted on me–dogs’ eyes don’t work that way.
The putrid stench flowed from the fifth carpet from the bottom of an enormous stack. I returned to my usual unseen form, and the musk smell cut off as abruptly as a snuffed flame. It must have shifted when the rug arrived in the city, then dimmed with time. Jinn magic is like that, sometimes. The residue of ill-made wishes accumulates in the old places, and accursed things flare in its presence. But with no one to shape these forces they soon smolder and die.
I lifted the other carpets and set them aside. Most Moroccan carpets are variants on common themes–medallions and tulips, big geometric Berber patterns–but this one was a stark field of red-orange. Bent lines and striped squares wandered across it without any pattern I could discern. I set the other carpets back on top of it and left invisibly.
I returned the next morning (as a human) to the conventional entrance. Rashiid, a balding salesman, answered the door and told me the shop was part of a collective. Rural women wove the carpets, but as it would be improper for them to work as saleswomen, the men in Fes handled that side of the business.
“Where do the weavers live?” I asked.
“All over Morocco. Every region,” he said. “We can get you any style you want.”
Mint tea was produced, and Rashiid and I sat and talked before I looked at any of his wares. The carpet is a gift for my son, I said. I have measured the room, chosen the colors. We have visitors from all over the world, said the salesman. He himself speaks French of course, German, English, Italian, and Turkish–at least when it comes to carpets. I asked him how high he could count in Turkish. High enough, he said. How did I like Morocco? How long had I been here? Had I looked at any other carpets yet? I would certainly prefer his.
Moroccans and their carpets! Every human in this country knows a carpet salesman who will give them a little something for steering them a sale. Even though hardly any Moroccan carpets fly.
Something orange, I said, would be best. And it began. Rashiid’s assistants rushed in with carpets in every shade of the setting sun, unrolling them side by side, snap-snap-snap. Something lighter? Darker? Yellower? An Arab pattern, or a Berber?
Rejected rugs piled up on the floor. The salesman was undeterred. So was I. I hadn’t yet seen what I was looking for, but I knew Rashiid would happily show me every carpet he had if he thought there was a sale to be made.
When the musk-touched carpet appeared, I made a wholly unnecessary inspection of the reverse. The knots were a bit irregular; the carpet was made by hand, not by machine. The summer and the winter sides were equally colorful and strange.
“You have excellent taste,” said the salesman. “That’s the Rehamna style.”
“Where was this made?” I asked. “Here in Fes?”
“No, no. This is real village craftsmanship. From Asni.” I listened carefully for any trace of glibness but heard none. He had given me the only thing I needed here.
He bargained as fiercely as I’d expect from a Moroccan carpet salesman. I drove him down lower than he realized he’d go. I could have just flown away, but I bought the carpet. I can produce modern banknotes as easily as I once did gold coins. I can afford to be generous.
I found the hammaam on a side street, if a village as small as Asni could be said to have side streets. I was in luck–the sign said tonight was a women’s night.
I entered invisibly. I always feel a ripple of pride when I smell the soap and feel the steam tickle my nose. I designed the first hammaam for the Queen of Sheba, to make her goat-haired legs white like silver when she met with Sulaymaan (may his descendants consider him a baseless legend).
The changing-room television was turned low, but it echoed harshly off the tiled walls anyway. Two tayyabataan giggled so hard at a soap opera that their big brown-nippled breasts quivered. Business must have been slow for the bath attendants to be in here instead of the steam rooms.
It is true we jinn are drawn to what is unclean, dumps and dungheaps; but this place where things become clean can be our home as well. I found the lesser jinni who lived here folded up in a corner where the ceiling met the wall.
“Good evening, O my child,” I said. I wondered if the empty vocative would have grated on me as much if I’d had children.
The jinni squinted at me and hopped down to the floor. “Good evening, O ifriit,” she said, unseen and unheard by the customers in their flip-flops and panties. “By my horse and my spear, how I hate the sight of naked flesh.”
“You could move somewhere else.”
“Do you know a place?”
I thought of the quiet cemetery where I lived. “No,” I said.
“I used to live in a man’s urethra.” She paused, bobbing her small head and blinking her large blue eyes. “I’ve never seen a real ifriit before,” she went on at last. The lesser jinn are stupid.
“Are any of the carpet weavers here tonight?” I asked. “The ones from the collective?”
“They’re Rahamna, are they not? Arabs?”
“I see why everyone says the ifriit were stuck in the past. Don’t worry.” The jinn grinned an inhumanly wide grin. “I know loads of Berber.”
After pissing me off by pointing out a woman who turned out to be the local English teacher, and another who was a tayyaba, the jinni indicated two women washing side by side and speaking (praise be to Allah, because I’m not giving that jinni any of the credit) Arabic. I leaned down.
You do wonderful work, I whispered, considering what you have to work with.
One woman’s brow furrowed. “It’s really too bad we can’t consistently get a good grade of wool,” she said.
Sometimes–She dumped a bucked of water on her head. Sometimes it smells.
“You remember how I had to keep washing the wool we got from Yattuy a while back.” That’s a Berber name, and she clearly knew him personally. He couldn’t be far.
“Yes, yes, I remember,” said her friend merrily.
“That reminds me. . . Larbi called from Fes today,” she said. “Some Saudi paid way too much for the rug I put that wool in. Now Larbi’s wondering if I could do another just like it.”
“Stupid Saudis,” crowed the jinni, like a rooster that’s seen an angel.
That was all I could tolerate. And I’m not even Saudi! There was an Arabia long before the Saudis. I flew home for a dinner of bones on which the name of Allah had not been written and some rest, but the goat had found my resting place. Musk hung in the air thick as smoke. The tombs were smashed open, trampled all over with cloven hoofprints. The goat-beast had even left me a gift: a copper bottle.
A jinni once tried to teach sheep the alphabet, but gave up after baa. I have heard sheep say “alif” but it doesn’t happen very often.
The sheep reciting their lessons at me now were penned in a round enclosure woven from brush, or clenched between the boots of the Berber men shearing them. They didn’t struggle, didn’t alter their flat tone or their impassive expressions. Baa baa baa, they said, as they’d been taught.
“Cigarettes?” said a boy of about twelve. His younger brother mimed. “Do you have any cigarettes?”
I tossed him a pack and he examined them curiously. “French?” he said. They must have looked wrong.
“Saudi,” I said.
“Would you like to have tea with us?” For a tip, I understood.
Berber shepherds are nomads, so finding every Yattuy on the plains around Asni had taken me some time. Bribing a town bureaucrat wouldn’t have helped, since there’s a government ban on registering Berber names. At least the purple and red flowers in the fields were pretty at this time of year. I had even learned some Berber: aghrum d wattay, “bread and tea.”
The boys’ mother welcomed me into a round tent covered with layers of woolen blankets. The side facing the road was open. I hoped the boys, who were outside kicking around a punctured water bottle, wouldn’t go looking for my car.
Yattuy’s wife Tagwillult had a blue tattoo beneath her lower lip and a small curly-haired girl pouting behind her skirt. I wondered if Tagwillult’s hair was as curly under her scarf. The teenage daughter who’d had the most school came in to translate for me.
“European students with backpacks come through here all the time,” she said. Berber music played on a battery-powered radio in the cabinet where the tea set was kept. “They fly on airplanes and cross the sea to take pictures of sheep.”
I tore off a piece of flat bread. Flies clouded around it and strolled across the butter. It wasn’t bones or rock or dung, so I wouldn’t actually eat it, but no one will ever know.
“I don’t think they know a normal sheep from an odd one,” she went on. “Last year when the lambs were born, one looked very strange. When the time came, we sheared it and found Arabic writing on the skin. I read it.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. I didn’t know if she was translating or narrating. “It said shaitaan seed ruin all shaitaan, all wound together.”
“That isn’t even grammatical,” I said. Stupid jinn-goat.
She chanted her words like a reluctant witness testifying before a cruel magistrate. “We killed it. We didn’t eat any of it. We burned it all. We sold the wool, though. The wool wasn’t the problem.”
And not even with another goat, but with a sheep! Disgusting.
Outside, a boy muttered something in Berber. I didn’t know the words, but I know a wish when I hear it.
“Would the boys like a soccer ball?” I said. “I got it for my son, but his grandmother had already bought him one. I was wondering what to do with it.”
“You have a soccer ball with you?” said the girl in evident surprise.
“It’s in my car,” I said. So I had to make a car after all.
I sat on a minaret in another city and let the amplified call to prayer thrum through my invisible bones. I couldn’t chaperone every eligible sheep in Morocco. My search was mere folly. I had no clues.
But had I done all I could with the ones I had?
There was something else to learn from the goats in the trees. Goats will go to great trouble to get exactly what they want.
I didn’t need to locate a desirable sheep. I just needed for the goat to think I had one. And how hard could it be to fool? It was a goat.
I bought a sheep, instead of making one, for fear my conjuration would stick to it and make it smell strange. I did give it a salon shampoo and trim, and spritzed rosewater behind its ears. It didn’t have much patience with the lipstick, and it ate the veil.
Jmaa el Fnaa, the biggest square in Marrakesh, has changed so little in the time I’ve known it that the differences aren’t worth noting. I wandered in human form among the entertainers. Two dancers, bearded beneath their veils, shook their sequined skirts to the laughter of the crowd. A comic performer told a folktale I had witnessed myself, about a man scheming to trick the angel Jibriil into giving him a motorcycle. The different voices for each character were inspired even if they didn’t achieve documentary accuracy. Tourists fed cherries to chained Barbary apes and snapped digital pictures. Sometimes I’ve whispered in the fortune-tellers’ ears, told them secret truths mixed with whatever falsehoods amused me, but there would be none of that now.
What could you want that isn’t sold here? How could you be dissatisfied here? Well, in my case, I grant, I can’t buy that goat-beast. And a human could get their pocket picked.
I set up my tent between a snake charmer with a rugful of harmless charges and a henna hand-painter who kept trying to shove her book of designs at me before she realized what I was doing. Their hangers-on menaced me, but I threatened to give them the evil eye, and apparently they found the threat as credible as it was.
For forty days and forty nights I stood on the square, shouting “Behind this curtain, and nowhere else in the world, you will (if Allah is willing) see the most beautiful sheep ever born! Her eyelashes are silk feathers, her rump rivals the gazelle’s. Her fleece is as white as fat and fluffy as the spring cloud. Her bleat, song made pure!” Business was slow.
The sheep knew something was wrong before I did. It kept up its baa baa so insistently that passersby stopped to goggle, which was more than I usually managed.
A slow wind crept across the square. A rack of T-shirts inscribed in European languages waved its welcome. The henna painter’s customer winced, and the painter bit her lip, wondering how to fix the pattern.
The kick would have killed me in human form. But I had already changed.
I crashed into the lantern shop behind me. A million dirhams’ worth of craftsmanship banged down on my head. I picked myself up and faced my foe for the first time.
It stood with one melon-sized hoof on the wreckage of my tent. Its two goat heads were fused. Two mad yellow eyes shared a single central socket. Two more stared off to either side. Yellow slime hung in ropes from its snouts, and its matted black fur was as stiff and sharp as scrap iron. Two pointed gray tongues licked square yellow teeth.
“Shaitaan,” said one head, with a mouth that had never been made for words.
“I,” said the other.
The monster lowered four horns at me and charged. I leapt aside, grabbed for a horn, and got a handful of greasy fur instead. The beast shook. My knuckles bounced off a marble-hard muscular body and I went shooting towards an orange-squeezing stand.
I didn’t knock the stand over, but that’s really because I hit two customers first.
Panic caught here and there among the crowd, like the first raindrops disturbing a still pond. The humans could not see or hear us, but the lantern-seller was standing in front of his shop abusing everyone in earshot, the women I’d knocked down were wringing juice out of their skirts, and the goat shook the pavement with every step.
I did not have the strength to pierce its hide, but I refused to believe this being of accursed ancestry could defeat me. I had all the guile of the ifriit. What did it have? Two heads as big as a wardrobe, and a goat’s wit within.
It bounded to a roof and wailed. I alone could hear, but every mortal creature in Marrakesh trembled. It lowered its double head and snorted. Its horns twisted like poisoned serpents and glistened like poisoned scimitars. With the force of the gale, the earthquake, with a might like the word of truth, it hurled itself down at me.
And when its spittle touched me and I felt its hot breath on my face, I conjured a lance.
It hung impaled above me. Its lips formed some final oath. Its eyes fogged. Its body went limp.
Something moved inside my tent. I flew over and lifted the flap. The sheep was unscathed. Perhaps the goat had wanted to save it for later.
“Baa,” said the sheep. “Baa baa baa baa alif.”
The crowd was in such a tumult that I didn’t bother looking for a private place to turn human. The goat and I had moved across the square like an unseen cyclone. An umbrella-topped table from a rooftop restaurant lay on the street, surrounded by shattered neon tubes that had once hawked women’s clothing. Licensed guides hurried their infidel customers elsewhere. A beggar took a skewer from a kebab stand with a deft hand, then a second.
Someone tugged my sleeve. I turned, preparing to give the evil eye.
“Good evening.” A short, plump man in a round hat and a white jalbiib smiled at me congenially. “Could I interest you in this bottle?”
I sucked in my breath. What warped magic brought this thing back to haunt me?
But before I had seen as stupidly as the goat, with my heart and not my mind. This was indeed one of the ancient instruments of imprisonment, but it was no threat to me.
The seal of Sulaymaan was intact.
No one was going to trap me in this bottle. Some other ifriit was already inside.
I paid the man. I didn’t even bargain–he seemed startled.
The smokeless fire within warmed the copper. Imagine, to be locked away in the days of the ancient kings, and emerge in the days of the personal computer. A millennium passes in that copper chamber, and you wait, wondering if the human who will free you has yet been born, never guessing that you are bobbing in the currents of an old and undirected magic that will carry you inexorably towards the last of your kind. I ran my thumb along the green-tarnished neck. We may become lovers, we may become enemies, but you are alone no longer, and neither am I.
I broke the seal.